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Culture Briefs

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2010

Prophetic death

"'I fear the death of Tolstoy,' Anton Chekhov once observed. 'If he were to die, a large empty space would appear in my life ... . So long as he lives, bad taste in literature, all vulgarity, insolence and sniveling, all crude, embittered vainglory, will stay banished into the outer darkness.'

"Chekhov never lived to see Tolstoys death, having died of tuberculosis six years before him at the more gentle age of 44. But he was right to understand that Tolstoys presence imposed certain ethical restrictions on Russian society.

"Devastatingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the 100th anniversary of Tolstoys death is hardly marked in Russia. Tolstoy was a man who opposed state violence, who considered the Churchs union with the state as blasphemous, who denounced pseudo-patriotism, and who wrote to Alexander III asking him to pardon those who assassinated his father. These principles are firmly out of fashion in todays Russia. By turning Tolstoy into an icon, the Soviets ultimately hollowed him out."

- blogger "Prospero," on "Hollowed by time" on Nov. 19 at his eponymous Economist blog

Wedding bounty

"No surprise, then, that wedding news has cleared many of the front pages, inside pages, and TV news broadcasts for days ... . Most papers are offering special supplements of as many as 80 pages of photographs, charting the new royal couples life. Commemorative wedding china is in production and, in some cases, already on the shelves, and a public holiday has been declared for the wedding day, which was announced Tuesday to be April 29, 2011. (The government had reportedly pressed for 'sunnier' weather on a later date than the couple's original choice of March.)

"The whole nation has been declared 'electric with excitement' by one of the U.S. correspondents rushed over to provide in-depth morning-news commentary. If the nation is at all represented by what used to be called Fleet Street here, that description just might be accurate.

"But, across a choppy Irish Sea, Britain's biggest trading partner might be forgiven if last week it looked toward its former colonizer with a momentary pang of wistful regret: Republicanism is no match for an aging constitutional monarchy that can still, when backed against the wall, inject a heady dose of economic adrenaline and patriotism into a troubled economy just by tolling royal wedding bells."

- Marcus Wilford, writing on "Can William and Kates Wedding Really Save the British Economy?" on Nov. 27 at the New Republic

Better than 'Showgirls'

"The comparison between the 1995 Paul Verhoeven film 'Showgirls' and 'Burlesque,' the Steven Antin film that [opened Friday], is fairly inevitable. Both movies are about young naifs who arrive in the big city ... wide-eyed and determined to do whatever it takes to win a part as a nightclub dancer. Both movies feature an abundance of feather boas, glitter makeup, and dressing-room catfights. Both of the films stars (Christina Aguilera in 'Burlesque'; Elizabeth Berkley in 'Showgirls') are blond and sexy and have the kind of bodies that contort in physics-defying positions while wearing very little clothing and very tall shoes.

"But to say that 'Burlesque' is an updated version of 'Showgirls' would be wholly unfair. And for this, Antin can be grateful, considering that 'Showgirls' is considered, pretty unanimously, one of the most awful movies of all time, from its Are-You-Kidding-Me? script, to its beyond-camp performances, to its relentlessly degrading tone ... 'Burlesque' is not without issues, the script being a big one, but it embraces campiness in a more jovial way, striving to be an updated 'Chicago' or 'Cabaret,' sans the heavy undertone issues, like abortion and anti-Semitism."

- Nicole LaPorte, writing on "Burlesque v. Showgirls: The Face-Off," on Nov. 23 at the Daily Beast

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